When the marshal came home, his wife was already in bed.
"I left some food for you," she told him, as he stripped and climbed on the bed.
"I'm not hungry," he said in a sleepy voice.
"Hard day?" she asked.
"Hmmm," he murmured.
She smiled and caressed his curly hair. "Did you get everything from Tompkins?" she asked.
"What things?" he replied, falling into sleepiness faster with her caresses.
"For the party tomorrow," she answered, frustrated that he forgot. "Jed will be so disappointed."
"I'll go in the morning," he promised.
"The party is in the morning."
"I promise I'll get the things, Lou. Just let me get some sleep."
Lou saw it was pointless and kissed his head, falling asleep as well.
When Kid awoke in the morning he smiled at his sleeping wife. She looked like a baby. He kissed her head and got out of the bed.
Lou, awakened by his kiss, watched him as he dressed. "You know," she started dreamily, "You look exactly as you did eight years ago, when we got married."
He smiled at her and sat on the bed, pulling her onto his lap and kissed her lips. "I love you exactly the same," he smiled. "Only more," he winked and walked out of the room.
After a few minutes Lou heard him ride away and got up to get everything ready for her oldest son's seventh birthday. She smiled as she saw he was already up in the kitchen, messing the breakfast he tried to make. She ruffled his curly hair, the color of his father's, and kissed the top of his head.
"Good morning, mama," Jed greeted her.
"Happy birthday, honey."
"Mama," he started. "Does dad know it's my birthday?"
Lou looked surprised. "Of-course he does, baby."
"He didn't say anything," the boy looked hurt.
Before Lou could answer her two daughters came down the stairs, presenting their gift for their brother.
Lou looked proudly at her three children. Even though they had their share of quarrels and fights, they were very close and they loved each other. She smiled as she remembered how excited Mary Sarah and Emma Rachel had been about the present - they bought it a week ago and waited impatiently for the big day. Born a year apart, three and four years after Jed, they were named after all the four mothers Kid and Lou had.
After they ate a quick breakfast and gathered the dishes, Lou sent the children to set the table outside, while she made the birthday cake. A smile formed on her lips as she recalled Kid's face when she made her first attempt at baking. The both of them thanked God for her improvement.
"Mama," Four-year-old Mary Sarah came running. "All of Jed's friends are here but Daddy hasn't come back yet."
Lou looked out of the window at the kids gathering in her yard, yet there was no sign of her husband.
When he did come, she was sitting in the darkness of their room, her children long ago sleeping in their rooms.
Kid walked to her and knelt in front of her. "It's late," he said. "Why aren't you sleeping?"
"I was waiting for you," she answered, not looking at him.
She nodded. "Whole day long."
"What's wrong, honey?" he asked concerned, taking her hands in his.
"The party," she reminded him.
"Jed's party," she spat angrily.
"Oh, Lou…" he kissed her hands. "I'm sorry. I totally forgot all about it."
"I know you did," she remarked. "And you broke his heart. Not only did you not get the things from Tompkins as you promised to me just last night, but you didn't even show up for the party. And it was so important to him, Kid." She had tears in her eyes as she thought of her son.
"Lou, I said I'm sorry," he cried frustrated. "What more do you want me to do?"
"I'm not the one you need to apologize to, Kid," she stood up and walked to the bed, leaving her husband standing by the window.
"Mama, wake up," Three-year-old Emma Rachel pulled the covers from her sleeping mother. "Ma, we're hungry."
Lou opened a lazy eye. "What's the matter?" she asked.
"I'll be right down," Lou answered. "Kid," she turned to her still sleeping husband next to her. "Kid, you'll be late."
"Let me sleep," he pulled the covers tighter around his neck. "I'm not going to work today."
"What's wrong? Are you sick?" she asked worriedly. "You've never missed a day. Tell me what's wrong."
"I decided to stay with my family today," he smiled shyly.
"That's great," she kissed his head, put on a gown, and walked downstairs. She kissed each of her children, paying extra attention to her son. "Slept well?" she asked no one in particular.
"Is dad still here?" Jed asked. "I saw Katy in the stables."
"He said he's staying with us today," she smiled.
"Yeah!" the girls cheered. They missed their father after not really seeing him for two weeks. Lately, things got a little hectic in town, and he was out before they even woke up in the morning and back only after they were already asleep.
Lou looked at Jed. "Aren't you happy, sweetheart?"
"Why couldn't he stay with us yesterday?" he asked, tears in his eyes.
"Oh, Jed," she sighed. "You know he has a lot to take care of in town, but believe me he wanted to be here for your birthday very much." She hated lying like this, but she didn't want to hurt her child more than he was already hurting.
Jed didn't answer as just then Kid walked into the kitchen. "Good morning," he greeted cheerfully.
He kissed Lou and then sat at the table, pulling Jed onto his lap.
"I'm too big for that, dad," Jed remarked, still upset.
"Oh, that's right," Kid laughed. "You're… wait, I know that," he smiled as his daughters giggled. "You're three."
"Daddy, I'm three," Emma laughed.
"You're ten!" Kid said merrily.
Lou smiled from her place near the counter. Jed shook his head. He was not pleased with this conversation.
"You're seven!" Kid yelled, picked his son in his arms, and swirled with him around the kitchen.
"Now me! Now me!" the girls yelled.
"When it's your birthday," Jed told them triumphantly.
Lou smiled at Kid and whispered "Thank you." She knew he loved them all but, being so honorable, he had to be the best in his job. The best marshal Sweetwater had ever seen.
"So, when are you starting school?" Kid asked.
"Less than a month," Lou answered, putting the food on the table. "And I will have a new pupil," she smiled at her son.
"Mama, when am I going to start school?" Mary asked.
"You're too stupid anyway, school won't help you," Jed laughed at his sister.
"You should talk," Mary returned.
"I know how to read, and you don't." Jed pointed out.
"Mama, can you teach me how to read?" Mary pleaded.
"Me too!" Emma called happily.
"We'll see what we can do," Lou promised.
"So, what do you feel like doing today?" Kid asked.
"A picnic!" the kids called in unison.
"A picnic, huh?" Lou smiled. "That means you're going to get dressed right now, and I'll arrange the basket." The kids ran upstairs and Kid pulled Lou to sit on his lap. They kissed for a minute before Kid took her face in his hands. "I'm sorry, Lou," he apologized.
She kissed him again before rising. "You should get dressed too," she pushed him toward the stairs.
"Love you," he whispered.
"Yeah, yeah," she laughed and turned back to the kitchen.
They arrived at the pond that was one of Kid and Lou's favorite places when they were still riding for the express. Now that Kid was the marshal and Lou taught school, they had little time to visit the place.
The children quickly removed their shoes and socks and were running barefoot on the grass.
Kid and Lou sat in the shades of the trees, content just to hold hands.
"Thank you." Lou said, leaning her head on his broad shoulder.
Kid kissed her head. "I know you don't believe me," he started, "but I do love you, Lou."
"I know you do, Kid. It's your priorities I'm having problems with." She looked in his eyes. "It seems that the most important thing in your life is your job and the town. It seems like we, your family, only come second."
"You know that's not true, but I can't just expect things in town to work themselves out. The town needs me."
"We need you too, Kid. The children miss you. I miss you. It's been so long since we've loved each other, Kid. We're always too tired. I need my husband."
Kid kissed her. "Everything will change, Lou. I promise you that."
Lou nodded, but grew suspicious at the look on Kid's face. "Wha…
Kid lifted her in his arms and ran into the water. "Say you love me," he called.
"Who?" she asked innocently.
"Me!" he laughed.
"I've always taught my children not to lie," she answered.
"Say you love me!"
"No! Kid, let me down!" she ordered.
"As you wish," he smiled mischievously, and dropped her in the water.
He was laughing so hard he didn't even notice her murderous glare. "This was a new dress!" she said angrily.
"I did notice something new about you," Kid laughed.
Lou looked around to see her children staring at them. She walked toward them and picked her girls one in each arm and. "come," she told Jed.
Kid stopped laughing and just watched her lovingly.
"Kids," Lou said when they reached Kid. "Your father here misbehaved. He got me all wet and thought it was funny. We're not going to let him get away with that, are we?"
Kid looked at her questioningly, a smile on his face. "What do you have in mind?" he asked mischievously.
Lou laughed. "Don't you wish you knew?" she let Kid take Mary in his arms. "I won't drown you in this pond, because I'll be the one who will have to wash all the dirt afterwards. So, kids, what do you think?"
"I say you have to stay at home with us for at least a week," Mary hugged her father's neck.
"A week?" Kid exclaimed jokingly.
"Yep!" Mary smiled.
"And I want you to read me a story!" Emma said.
"What do you want, Jed?" Kid asked.
"I want you to let me ride Katy."
"Well, I can do at least two of these things," he concluded. "But, Mary, you know I can't stay home with you. As much as I want to. I have a job to do."
"Putting the bad people in jail," Emma said knowingly.
"That's right," Kid smiled.
"So can you teach me to swim?" Mary asked.
"Sure. You want to start now?"
"Kid…" Lou tried to protest.
"I'll clean these clothes, Lou," Kid promised.
"We'll wait for you on the dry side," Lou nodded.
When the family returned home the sky was turning dark and they were all very tired. Kid and Lou put the children to sleep and hurried to their room eager to spend the next hours together.
When Lou awoke her hand reached for the man next to her but couldn't find him. She slowly opened her eyes to discover a white note on his pillow.
Thought I'd get an early start so I can meet you here tonight…
She kissed the paper and put it under her pillow. She pulled his pillow to her body and fell asleep again, smelling his scent.
"Marshal!" the new banker, Mr. Shuster came running into Kid's office.
Kid looked up tiredly. He didn't like the man. He was too arrogant and Kid felt there was more to him than what met the eye, but not in the good way. "Well, what is it?" he asked when he sensed Shuster was waiting for his question.
"That filthy Indian killed Melissa. He killed my wife!"
Kid rose from his desk. Melissa was one of Lou's best friends and the opposite of her husband. She was a beautiful woman with a constant smile on her face and in her heart. Kid often wondered what brought the two together in marriage.
Kid followed Mr. Shuster to the street. Three horses were carefully tied to the post. One, Kid figured, was Mr. Shuster's, on another one was the body of the dead woman, and on the third was a body of a man. An Indian. Kid approached the semi-conscious man. He lifted his head by pulling his hair.
His jaw dropped when he recognized the man. "Buck," he mumbled.
Tears clouded his eyes as he took his old friend in his arms and put him in a cell inside the jail.
"I want him to pay for what he did," Shuster called from behind Kid. "I want him to die."
"I want the whole story. Now!" Kid growled. He was confused and angry at the man before him, at Buck and at the whole world.
"I was on a business trip since last Thursday and when I came home this morning I found my wife dead in her bed and this…" he pointed toward Buck. "This filthy savage in her room."
"I didn't do it, Kid," Buck said in a weak voice.
Kid rushed to stand in front of him, the hurt clear in his eyes. "I never thought you'd change this much," he mumbled disappointedly.
"Kid, I didn't…"
"You know him?" Shuster broke in, shocked.
Kid nodded sadly and walked away from the cell. "We used to ride for the Express together."
"That's great!" Shuster yelled. "And I'm sure now you'll let him go, for old time sake."
"If he did what you say he did, than he will get a trial," Kid spoke calmly.
"I'm telling you, Kid, I didn't do it," Buck hissed through clenched teeth.
"I will write to Ft. Laramie and ask them to send a judge."
"Kid…" Buck pleaded.
Kid shook his head tiredly and walked out. He stopped near the dead woman and kissed her head, then jumped on Katy and galloped away. He knew Lou would hear the news, and thought it would be best if she heard it from him.
Lou looked up when she heard someone riding towards them. She smiled as she saw it was her husband.
The girls ran to greet him as he dismounted, and Lou saw him whispering something in their ears. He climbed the porch steps and sat on the railing across from her. "Where's Jed?" he asked.
"He's reading in his room," she answered, sensing something troubled him. "What's wrong?" she asked, coming closer to him, taking his hand in hers.
"Louise, honey, I'm sorry," He started and pulled her into his embrace.
"It's okay, Kid, I got your note, but I didn't dare to think you'd come back this early," She joked nervously.
"Lou, Melissa is dead," Kid blurted, holding her face in his hands, looking straight in her eyes.
Lou stepped back, shaking her head. "I saw her only a couple of days ago. She was here for Jed's party."
"Lou, sweetheart, I wish I was wrong but I saw her," he knew there was no point in holding the rest a secret. "Her throat was slashed."
Lou's eyes popped out and she let out a gasp. "Murdered?" she mumbled, stunned. "She did no harm to anyone, Kid," Lou started sobbing and Kid pulled her into his embrace. "Why would anyone want to hurt her?"
"Her husband found her in her bedroom," He said, "And her killer was still there."
"A lover?" Lou asked surprised.
"I doubt it," Kid answered. "It's Buck."
Lou was sure she heard wrong. "What do you mean - Buck?"
"He's in jail now, Lou. Shuster found him in Melissa's room."
Lou entangled herself from his arms, looking amazed. "Kid… it can't be true. You know Buck."
Kid shook his head. "We knew Buck, Lou. Eight years ago. A lot can happen in eight years."
"Not Buck, Kid. You know it can't be right. He's like a brother to you."
"Lou, Jed was my brother and he did kill those soldiers and I killed him," Kid remarked sadly.
"Jimmy killed him, Kid, not you."
"I would have."
"No you wouldn't. And you wouldn't do it to Buck either."
"I have to, Lou. If he's guilty…"
"If, Kid. Remember that," She cut him mid sentence. "You have no proof yet."
"I'm going there right now."
"What are you going to look for, Kid? Proof against him or proof to set him free?" she had tears in her eyes.
Kid didn't answer her. He turned his back to her and went down the stairs, mounted Katy and rode off.
Lou stood silent for a minute, and then called for her son.
"What is it, ma?" he asked as he came to the porch.
"Look after your sisters. I'm going to town," She didn't even look at him and ran toward the stables to saddle Lightning.
She fought against the bigger men that gathered at the jail door. "Where's your husband?" one of the angry men asked her. She didn't answer him and ran to stand in front of Buck's cell.
When Buck saw her he stood up, tears tingling in his eyes. Lou didn't even try to hide the tears that were running down her cheeks. "Buck…" she whispered, reaching her hands to him through the bars. She touched his face, following the changes in him. He looked a lot older than his twenty-eight years, though he still was a very handsome man. His eyes were sadder.
"What happened?" she asked him, wanting his version of the story first.
Buck shrugged. "Where's Kid?" he asked.
"What happened?" she repeated without answering his question.
"I killed that woman." Buck answered defeated.
The look on Lou's face was a mixture of disbelief, horror and disappointment and it cut him like a knife. "You did it?" she needed another confirmation.
"That's what that woman's husband said. That's what your husband believes."
"But did you do it?" she asked in a whispered, too afraid to hope.
Buck shook his head no. "I did not kill that woman."
"'That woman' had a name, Buck," Lou jumped into his words, angry at the lack of respect. "Her name was Melissa and she was my friend."
"I'm sorry, Lou. I didn't know."
"And why should you?" she asked, still not completely forgiving. "You disappeared for eight years," she started sobbing. "I missed you, Buck. There were so many times that I needed you, needed to talk to you. I thought you'd like to know your nephew and nieces."
Buck smiled sadly. "I missed you too, Lou. But my people needed me. Every time I wanted to take a few weeks to come and visit you, something came up. After awhile I just figured it will be best to leave things as they were. After so long, I wasn't sure how you'd feel about me."
"You're family, Buck. You're like a brother to Kid and me. We love you."
They fell silent, thinking of the situation before them.
"Lou!" Kid came into the jail. "What are you doing here? Where are the kids?"
"They're fine," Lou answered. "Jed's keeping an eye over the girls."
"How many children do you have?" Buck asked.
"Three," Kid answered coldly, without even sparing Buck a glance.
Lou was amazed by Kid's attitude and gave Buck an apologetic smile. "Our oldest son, Jed, is seven. Mary Sarah is four and Emma Rachel is three. I'll bring them here tomorrow," she promised.
"No you won't!" Kid ordered his wife. "I found his knife near Melissa's bed."
"He didn't do it!" Lou persisted. "Tell him, Buck."
Buck just stared sadly at Kid.
"I've already called for a judge," Kid said, staring at Buck with contempt.
"Tell him, Buck." Lou begged.
"Lou!" Kid shouted, scaring both Lou and Buck. "Go home!"
Lou looked dumbly at her husband. It was the first time since they met that he raised his voice at her like that. Tears were welling in her eyes. "Buck…" her voice trembled as she spoke to him, her eyes downcast. "I'm sorry." She apologized for her husband. "I'll see you tomorrow." She reached her hand through the bars and he took it in his, smiling sadly and whispering a thank-you.
"Don't you touch her!" Kid shouted and, taking a hold on Lou's shoulders pushed her aside and out.
Lou looked back at him, then mounted Lightning and rode back to the house, tears blurring her sight.
Lou snuggled closer to the body next to her. She sleepily opened her eyes to look at her husband. The clothes he still wore from the previous day reminded her of everything that happened, she jumped away from him as if she was bitten by a snake. She quickly dressed and went down to the kitchen, wishing to get as far as she could from him. A couple of minutes later Kid came down, rubbing his eyes.
"I want you to leave," Lou said quietly.
Kid stood stunned in his place. "What are you talking about?"
"I'll leave, then."
"Lou," he took a hold on her arm as she started to walk away. "I don't understand what you're talking about. But I have to go to work now, so we'll talk about it tonight."
"I won't be here tonight."
"When will you come back?" he asked, still not understanding what she was talking about.
"I'm leaving, Kid," She told him without looking at him.
Finally, it downed on Kid what she was talking about. "We'll work it out, Lou," he promised. "I'm sorry I yelled at you last night."
"There's no point for you to apologize, Kid," she said. "It's not just that you yelled at me. It's everything. It's the way you're treating Buck and it's the way you neglect me and the children," she cleared her throat from the tears. She waited for him to say something, and after he didn't for a few minutes, she decided it was time to go.
"Where will you go?" Kid asked desperately.
Lou just shrugged. "I don't know."
"What about the kids?" he asked.
"I'm taking them with me. You don't have the time to take care of them anyhow."
"Please stay, Lou."
"I can't live with you anymore, Kid. I don't know you anymore. You're not the man I married."
"It's all because everything that's happened with Buck, right?"
"That thing with Buck only made me see things more clearly, Kid. We've been growing apart for awhile now. I don't want to end up hating you."
"I'll leave, Lou. You stay here," Kid begged.
"I don't want you to do me any favors."
"I love you, Lou," he tried. "I don't want any of us to leave."
"One of us has to," Lou said determined. "I love you too, but I can't live with you. I want a divorce."
Kid looked at her stunned. His jaw dropped. "Lou… please… you can't be serious. We love each other," his voice trembled as he spoke.
Lou's eyes glistened with unshed tears. "Kid…" she started but stopped as she heard someone was coming down the stairs.
"I'll pack some clothes," Kid concluded in a low voice and walked out, not before he kissed Emma's head.
"Good morning, mama," the child greeted happily.
Lou tried to smile but when she felt she could hold it no more she ran out of the house. She walked into the stables and into Katy's stall. She hugged the mare's neck and sobbed uncontrollably.
Kid tried to avoid the jail any way that he could. He went again to the Shuster's place, although he didn't really look for anything. He was sitting aimlessly on the porch, when he saw someone coming and jumped to his feet once he recognized it was Lou.
She dismounted Lightning and walked up the steps to the porch. They stood silent for a couple of minutes, not able to look at each other.
"I want to see the place," Lou finally spoke.
"I've already checked everything," he answered, the hurt clear in his voice. "Don't you trust me that I did?"
She looked at the ground. "I want to see for myself."
"You left the kids alone again?" he asked.
Lou shook her head. "Buck's watching them."
"He's a murderer, Lou. I can't believe you could be this stupid," he ran down the steps and mounted Katy. "Have fun," he remarked sarcastically.
Lou looked at him riding off until all that was left was dust, then she turned and walked into the house. She took a deep breath before opening the bedroom door. The smell of death was in the air. She saw the blood stain on the bed and she felt nauseous and looked for a chair to sit down. As she neared the rocking chair by the window, she got a glimpse of the small stable. She searched the small yard from the window. Melissa was so proud of her little garden by the porch. Tears welled in her eyes as she thought of her friend. And now another friend of hers was in trouble and needed her help. She promised Buck she would find the proof of his innocence and the real murderer, yet she had no idea what or where to look for. Finally, she decided the stable would be as good a place as any.
She opened the heavy doors and peeked inside. There were only three stalls in the small stable and only one was occupied. Lou recognized Storm, Melissa's horse, and walked in the stall to pat his neck. "You wouldn't know who it was, by any chance would you?" she asked aloud.
"What are you doing here?" a male voice asked from behind her.
Lou jumped and turned around. "I'm sorry, sir, I just thought I'd look for any clues." she told Melissa's husband. She never liked him. He was rude, obnoxious, and full of self-appreciation. "I didn't know anyone was here." She admitted.
"I stayed at the hotel last night."
"I'm sorry for your loss." She said sincerely.
"Thank you," he answered coldly. "Now would you please leave?"
"I want to find her murderer," Lou replied.
"I've already found him! It's that filthy Indian. Go see - in your husband's office."
"Buck didn't do it."
"Oh, I understand you know him too. What a reunion. Maybe you helped him."
Lou shot him an angry glare. "Buck is one of the most gentle men I've ever known and I know he couldn't have done this. I will find the proof of his innocence." She promised.
"Your husband believes he did it."
"I'll do it without his help. I'm capable of doing this myself."
"And what about your precious little ones?" he asked arrogantly. "What kind of a mother are you to leave you children alone while you're trying to help an old lover?"
Lou's lips trembled from the insult. "You did not deserve your wife. You're a little, small-minded man, and I am a great mother who doesn't want her kids to live in a place where innocent people are being charged for something they didn't do just because their skin isn't white!" Lou yelled and ran out of the stable, eager to get as far as possible from that man.
Lou was still shaken when she walked into Kid's office. Everyone was startled to see her like that. "Are you okay, Lou?" Kid asked her as he tried to pull her into his arms.
She pushed him away and walked to stand near Buck. "Where are the kids?" she asked.
"I sent them home with Davis," Kid answered. "He's staying with them till you get back. And I don't want you to bring them here again."
"Are you okay?" Lou asked Buck, not commenting on Kid's words.
"Did you hear what I said?" he asked, his tone higher than usual.
Lou looked at him with contempt. "Don't order me, Kid!" she called. "These are my children and I'll do as I want!"
"They're my children too, Lou. Don't forget it. And I would like to see them at least once in a while."
"Then I'll have to bring them here, won't I?" Lou asked sarcastically.
Kid shook his head in frustration and walked out to sit on the porch of the jail.
"What's going on, Lou?" Buck asked.
"I told him to leave," Lou answered quietly.
"Why would you do a stupid thing like that?" he asked incredulously.
"You're the second man today to tell me I'm stupid. The first one was my husband," she commented.
"I'm sorry, Lou, but why did you do that? Is it because of me?"
"Part of it," she answered truthfully. She didn't want to make him feel guilty, but she didn't think it was fair to lie either. "We've been growing apart for some time now, Buck, so I guess it's only natural. If it wasn't that it would've been something else, but it was bound to happen."
"Are you sure, Lou, it looks like he still loves you. And I know you love him too. I can see that in your eyes. You're angry at him, but you still love him."
Lou nodded. "I do still love him, and I'm scared I'd grow to hate him if things delete will stay the way they are. Please, Buck, I thought about it a lot and I've made up my mind."
Buck nodded. "Just remember it's okay to admit you've made a mistake."
Lou nodded and changed the subject. "I'm afraid I didn't find anything yet." She said remorsefully. "I tried, but then her husband came and told me to leave."
"It's not your fault, Lou. You've tried."
She shook her head. "I'll go back there. Tomorrow. First thing in the morning, when he'll be in town. I'll get you free!" she promised. "I just wish Kid would help me." She added in a whisper.
Buck reached his hand to caress her cheek. "He has to do what he has to do," Buck sighed. "That's his job, and all the proofs say I did it."
"That why I have to find other proofs," Lou replied and backed away from the cell and Buck. "I'll see you tomorrow," she promised and walked away, not even glancing at her husband on her way to Lightning.
Lou returned to the Shuster's early the next morning. Her children were still sleeping and she left them a note explaining where she went and when she'd be back. She left instructions as to what had to be done and reminded them how much she and their father loved them.
The children still didn't know their parents had separated and were not living together anymore. They were used to the fact that their father was coming home late after they went to bed, and leaving early in the morning before they woke up.
Lou arrived at the place and was relieved to find Shuster was already out. She dismounted Lightning and took him to the stable. She was surprised to see Buck's horse there, since she hadn't seen it the day before. She smiled to herself when she thought of the horse that was one of Buck's most treasured possessions. They were all much attached to their horses. Jimmy to his golden palomino and Kid to Katy… she patted Lightning on the neck and went to examine Buck's horse. The horse wore no shoes and there was no sign of the use of a saddle. She circled the horse, examining it thoroughly. When she was about to give up on finding a hint in the horse, she saw a small blood stain on the horse's neck. She thought of the wound on Buck's forehead. They had thought it was from Shuster's beatings, but now she thought maybe he was beaten, knocked out and brought there. She mounted Lightning quickly, eager to tell Kid what she found and get Buck free.
Kid was sitting at his desk going through some papers when Jed walked in. "What are you doing here?" he asked harsher than he intended.
The boy looked ashamed. "I was trying to make some breakfast but we ran out of cornmeal, so I thought I'd buy some, but mama didn't leave me any money, so I thought I'd ask you."
"You're mother ain't home?" Kid asked, starting out. He stopped when he saw Lou riding toward them. "Where were you?" he almost yelled at her.
She dismounted and only then saw Jed standing by his father. "Where are your sisters?" she asked, fear creeping into her voice.
"They're home!" Kid shouted. "You were supposed to be there with them, but you had to go on this crusade. What about your family, Lou?"
People were staring at them now and Lou had to fight back the tears that threatened to spill from her eyes. She mounted Lightning again and galloped back home faster than she had ever before.
Jed looked at his father, tears rolling down his cheeks. It was the first time he has ever seen his father yelling at his mother and it scared him. Only then he noticed his father's weary eyes and understood he didn't come home that night. Silently he took Kid's large hand in his small one and led him into his office. He sat him by the desk and hugged him. Kid couldn't control it any longer and he let out all the frustration and anger that were building in him these last couple of days.
Buck watched his friend breaking down. He could not help but feel guilty for his friends' separation. But he also knew the both of them were too stubborn to admit their mistakes.
An hour later Lou came back into the jail, now followed by her two daughters. Kid was calmer now and he hugged the girls, happy to see them. He looked up to see his wife standing by the door. "I'm sorry, Lou," He apologized, but she ignored him and went straight to Buck.
"I found a clue," she whispered.
"What?" Buck didn't want to get his hopes too high.
"I saw your horse in the Shuster's stable," she started. "There's a stain of dry blood on its neck. Like someone hit you and your head was hanging over there. Like from that wound," she pointed toward his forehead.
"But I don't remember it, Lou," Buck sighed, his frustration growing.
"It can be from when he was brought in. he was lying on the horse when Shuster brought him here," Kid remarked from behind them, overhearing their conversation.
"Aren't you going to arrest Shuster for beating Buck like that?" Lou asked.
"I can't really blame him. If I'd find someone in my dead wife's room…" he didn't finish, seeing Jed was looking at him with a mixture of curiosity and fear, suddenly he understood how it sounded.
"Buck," Lou started again, "how did you get there?"
"I don't remember, Lou," he replied sadly. "The last thing I remember before I woke up here is riding with my son."
"You have a son?" Lou suddenly felt embarrassed for not asking about his life sooner.
Buck nodded. "I married a woman from my tribe. We have two sons."
"I didn't know," Lou apologized quietly. "You must miss them terribly."
He nodded again. "They don't even know what happened."
Lou looked at her husband, blaming him for something neither of them understood.
"I'll go there tomorrow morning," Kid promised. "There's no point in them suffering."
"Look for my brother," Buck said. "He remembers you and the others don't know English."
"I'll see you tomorrow, Buck," Lou promised and left, taking the children with her.
"Kid," Buck started once she was gone. "I'm sorry things aren't good between the two of you."
Kid stared at him for a moment and then left the jail.
Five men were gathered at the bedroom, hovering over the sleeping figure. Two more were standing outside the house, holding the horses ready.
The one closer to the bed knelt and put his hand over the woman's mouth. She jerked and was immediately wide awake, fear in her eyes. All she could see in the darkened room was the shadows of five men, masks on their faces.
She tried to take the hand that covered her mouth away but one of the others grabbed a hold on her hands and all she could do was twist and kick to no avail.
"Now, listen to me, missy," the man above her whispered as his free hand pulled the covers off her, exposing her body that was clad now only in a thin white night-gown. "It'll be shame if anything will happen to you and your perfect body. I wonder what people might think of the marshal, neglecting his beautiful young wife and kids."
At the mention of her children, Lou started fighting stronger than before.
"Drop your investigation!" the man ordered. "The Indian did it and he's gonna pay for it."
Just then the door burst open and Lou saw one of her nightmares comes true when Jed stood there, stunned, watching the scene. "Mama?" he asked, not quite understanding what was happening, but too scared to move.
"He's a cute boy," the man continued. "Don't disappoint him." With that, the men left the room, passing Jed at the door, patting his head.
Lou let out a sob that was followed by a full hysterical cry. Jed came closer to the bed, but thought better of it. He ran outside and to the stable, did not even bother to saddle Lightning as he galloped toward town and his father.
Both Kid and Buck awoke by Jed's panicked shouts that started even before he dismounted Lightning. "Something happened to…" Kid started to ask but Jed cut him. "It's ma," he said, tears in his eyes.
Kid was out the door in less than a second. He mounted Lightning and helped Jed up than raced toward his house.
Kid dismounted without even stopping the horse and ran upstairs. Lou was curled into a ball, covering herself with the blanket, shivering and sobbing. He sat on the bed and pulled her into his arms. He rocked her and kissed her head, whispering soothing words.
After a few minutes, Jed came to stand at the entrance of his parent's bedroom. "I took Lightning to the stable."
Kid looked at him and smiled encouragingly. "What happened, Jed?"
"Is mama going to be alright?" the boy asked, his voice trembling.
"Come here," Kid motioned his son to sit on the bed.
Jed reached a shaky hand to stroke Lou's hair. She turned toward him in a sudden motion and hugged him tight, sobbing against his shoulder.
"See," Kid smiled. "She only wanted to know you're okay."
"Jed," Lou finally spoke, "Will you please go check on your sisters." She asked.
Jed nodded and walked out; relieved his mother seemed to feel better.
Kid stroked Lou's hair and gently kissed her brow. "Sweetheart, tell me what happened."
Lou looked in his eyes and felt somewhat safer. "Hold me, Kid, please," she hugged him tighter.
"I'm here, Lou. Nothing will happen to you," he whispered in her ear and then placed a little kiss there.
"I was so scared, Kid," She sobbed. "They said they'll hurt the children."
"Who did, Lou?" Kid asked confused.
"Those men. They were in here and they told me to stop helping Buck. They said they'll hurt the kids, and that man…he was looking at me… and I thought… and I was so scared…" she couldn't continue.
Kid held her tight and continued stroking her hair.
After awhile Jed appeared in the door again. "Mary and Emma are awake."
"I'll go check on them," Kid whispered. "Lou, are you going to be okay?" Lou just nodded. "Alright. Jed, please stay with her," Kid asked his son as he went toward the girls' room.
"I'm sorry, Jed, that it got you so scared," Lou said after Kid left. "You know that your father and I will do anything to keep you safe, don't you?"
Jed nodded and hugged his mother tightly. "It's okay, mama. Dad's here and will make everything okay again," he promised.
"Yeah," Lou had to smile at his naiveté. I hope you won't have to change, she thought.
An hour later Lou and Kid were sitting in the kitchen, nestling mugs of coffee in their hands. The children were getting dressed upstairs.
Lou was looking out of the window. "It's still dark," she remarked.
Kid put his hand on hers. "I know, but I don't want anyone to see us leaving."
"You ain't coming too, Kid," Lou answered, looking back at him.
"You can't go alone, Lou."
"We can't let them suspect anything, Kid. You have to be in town by morning." After a short silence she continued. "You think I'm doing the right thing?"
"Lou, I believe now that you are right about everything. About Buck… everything…" he lowered his eyes. "You take them to Jimmy, I'll stay here, but I want you to wire me the minute you get there."
Lou nodded. "I hope Jimmy won't be angry about me dropping the kids on him like that."
"I still think you ought to stay with him too."
"I can't, Kid. I have to help Buck."
Kid nodded understandingly. "I just wish I could have seen the truth sooner."
Lou stared at him. "I hope it's not too late."
The kids entered the kitchen, wide-awake with excitement reserved only for the young. Kid took the girls and sat them on his lap. "Louise, I'll fix them something to eat. You go and get dressed." After Lou left Kid turned to his son. "Jed, you have to watch over your mother and your sisters now."
"Aren't you coming too?" Mary asked.
"No, sweetheart, I have to stay here. But you'll have fun with your Uncle Jimmy," Kid promised.
"But why can't we go in the morning?" Emma asked as she rubbed her eyes.
"The sooner you go, the sooner you get there," Kid smiled and kissed his youngest child. "Now, remember that I love you."
Mary hugged his neck.
"We love you too, dad," Jed smiled.
An hour later Lou was sitting on the driver's seat of the buckboard, Jed by her side and the girls on the bed of the buckboard.
Lou was wearing her old clothes from the days when she was still a rider for the Pony Express. Even though eight years had passed, they still fit her perfectly and Kid had to admire how alluring she looked in these old man-clothes, even in that early morning hour. He kissed each of his children and moved to stand by her side. He noticed the rifle that nestled under her feet, in addition to the two guns strapped around her waist. "Take care," he said, taking her hand.
Lou bent down and kissed his cheek. "Please tell Buck how sorry I am."
"I will," he promised. He wanted to tell her how much he loved her, but couldn't form the words with the tears choking his throat. "You'd better go now," he finally managed.
She nodded and spurred Lightning. Kid stood behind, watching his kids waving good-bye to him, until there was no sign of them.
He stayed at the house until the morning came, so he could check for tracks the men might have left. He sat in the parlor, drinking coffee and contemplating everything that happened since Buck came back into their lives. He missed his wife, having her by his side when they slept. Now he knew she was right about Buck. He knew his friend could never have done a thing like that. How could I doubt him like that, he thought. These men that scared his wife like that had something to do with it and he was positive one of them was the real murderer.
"How's Lou?" Buck asked as Kid walked into the jail.
"She's fine," Kid said. He took a chair and sat just outside Buck's cell. "I need you to tell me everything you remember," he looked Buck straight in the eyes.
"I don't remember, Kid," Buck sighed. He wondered what made Kid so interested all of a sudden, but said nothing.
"You have to," Kid answered, desperation clear in his voice. "Buck…" he started but was cut off by Shuster who came to talk to him.
"Marshal!" the man called. "Someone stole money from my house."
Kid was tired and the last person he wanted to see was the one standing in front of him. "What are you talking about, Shuster?" he asked impatiently.
"Your wife was hanging around my house a lot lately. Maybe she took it!"
"Lou is not a thief!" Kid growled at the accusations against his beloved wife.
"Or so you say," Shuster replied. "Maybe you don't know her as well as you think. After all, you thought that Indian to be your friend and he murdered my wife."
"I did not kill anyone!" Buck shouted.
Shuster gave them a look full of contempt. "If I were you, I'd look inside my own house. You weren't there lately. Hope you won't stumble over a lover…"
Kid's fist hit Shuster, shutting him up and sending him to the floor. "Don't you dare talk like that about my wife," he hissed. "Get out and don't come back!" he watched as Shuster dusted his clothes and hat and walked out, his head high. When he was finally gone, Kid turned to look at Buck. "I'm sorry I doubted you," he apologized. "Lou was right all along." He looked ashamed and didn't know what else to say. "It's okay, Kid," Buck reassured him. "You did what you had to do. I don't know if I would've acted differently."
"Of course you would, Buck. You're not as stupid as I am. Few are."
Buck smiled at that, but then turned serious again. "What happened to Lou?" he asked.
Kid looked at him, contemplating whether he should tell him or not, but then decided he owed him at least that. "Some men came into her room last night," he started. "They scared her pretty bad. Jed walked in on them, and when he saw how hysterical she was he came for me." Kid sat on the chair, his head in his hands. "If I was there this wouldn't have happened," he sighed. "I should have been there."
"Kid, there was nothing you could have done," Buck told him. "Besides, she's the one that threw you out…"
Kid looked up at him. "They told her to stop asking questions about what happened. They threatened her and the children. I guess they have something important they want to hide."
"Like the real killer…" Buck continued Kid's line of thought.
"Yeah," Kid agreed. "I stayed there till there was enough light to check the ground for tracks but I couldn't find any."
"Didn't Lou see their faces?" Buck asked.
"They were wearing hoods."
"They planned it for quite some time, then," Buck commented. "But why would anyone kill that poor woman? Lou told me about her. She said she was gentle and kind…"
"Maybe she found out something and they had to kill her to shut her up."
"Maybe…" Buck mumbled. He had a feeling this wasn't the case, but as of right now he was glad to have Kid on his side, and besides, this was their only line of thought for the moment. "So, where is Lou now? You haven't left her alone with the kids, have you?" he asked.
Kid shook his head. He looked around to see no one was listening. "She went to pay an old friend a visit." He whispered.
"Oh, I see," Buck smiled. "That's probably the best idea. No one followed her?"
"I don't think so. She left in the middle of the night and it was dark last night. I covered the tracks leading from the house. I hope that's enough."
"So do I," Buck sighed.
Lou reached the marshal's office and stopped the buckboard. She looked at her sleeping kids in the buckboard's bed. Jed was sleeping between the two girls, their heads on his chest. You are going to break some hearts when you grow up… she smiled to herself, watching her handsome son.
She walked up the steps to the office and opened the door, smiling as she saw the marshal sitting in a very familiar position: his legs on the desk, his head tilted back, a hat covering his face. She cleared her throat, wishing to draw some attention.
"Lou!!!" Jimmy exclaimed, jumping to his feet. "What are you doing here?"
"It's good to see you too, Jimmy," she mumbled, hugging him, burying her face in his chest to keep from crying.
Jimmy hugged her back. "What are you doing here?" he asked again. "Where's Kid?"
She pulled back from him. "Kid's back at home," she answered, meeting his eyes. "We need to ask a favor, Jimmy."
"Anything, Lou. What is it?"
"The kids are outside. We've spent the last night on the road to get here as fast as we could. I… we… Kid and I… well… we need… no, we ask if they can stay with you for awhile."
Jimmy was too surprised to say anything. "What are you talking about, Lou?" he asked once he got his senses back. "Is something wrong with Kid?"
"No. It's nothing like that. Look, I can't explain, but we really need your help."
"Are they in any danger, Lou?" he asked.
She nodded solemnly. "I can't say any more about this, Jimmy, and you've gotta trust me on this." She begged. "If you say no, they might be killed."
"Are you in any danger too, Lou?"
"I can handle myself and so can Kid, but they might get hurt."
"How long?" Jimmy sighed.
"Only till after the trial," Lou replied.
"What trial?" Jimmy asked suspiciously. "What have the two of you got yourself into?"
"Jimmy…" Lou sighed, but saw she had no other option but to tell him, with only a few adjustments… "There's this man who's being accused of something he didn't do. I tried to find out some more about this, so I can get him free, and those men threatened us. That's why I can't have them there."
"So stop your investigation," Jimmy said.
"I can't tell you that," she answered, knowing he'd hate Kid for arresting Buck. Jimmy would never understand, she still wasn't sure she did.
"Okay," Jimmy sighed. "I know I shouldn't, but okay."
Lou smiled. "They're great. You won't even notice them around."
"What am I supposed to do with them?" he asked.
"Nothing. Just keep an eye on them and make sure they eat and stay out of trouble."
"That's not too hard," Jimmy smiled.
"No." Lou laughed. "And Jed will help you with the girls. Come help me get them in here," she asked, leading him out. "They can sleep in one of the cells, for now."
"Oh, boy…" Jimmy whispered to himself. "Why am I such a nice guy?"
Lou stayed with Jimmy and the kids only for a few hours.
Emma cried in her arms, not letting her go. "But I don't want you to leave," the girl sobbed.
"Honey, you know I have to, but I'll come back for you as soon as possible. And you'll see, you will have a lot of fun with Uncle Jimmy."
"I want daddy," the girl cried.
"In a couple of days I'll come back to get you," Lou promised.
Jimmy took the still crying girl in his arms. "Sweetheart, your mother really needs to go now, say goodbye nicely."
The child waved her hand and then buried her face in Jimmy's shoulder. "Great," Jimmy murmured. "Marshal 'Wild Bill' with kids…"
Lou kissed his cheek and mounted Lightning. "I'll see you all in a few days. Jimmy, remember - I will come to get them! And don't say anything to anyone. Jed, you help Uncle Jimmy with the girls. He might be a grown man but he doesn't know much about them…"
Jimmy smiled at that and started to protest but Lou gave him a glare telling him he shouldn't comment on that one… she blew them all a kiss and started the ride back home.
When she got back to town, she didn't even stop at her house but instead went straight to the jail. It was quite late and she was tired and hungry, but she was too scared to spend a night alone at that house. She found Buck sleeping in his cell, Kid was sleeping on the stiff chair. She touched his shoulder and he jerked, instantly awake.
"Hi," He whispered.
The moment was awkward since none of them knew exactly what to say. They knew they still loved each other - that would never change - but their marriage was not a success.
"I didn't want to stay in the house alone tonight," Lou started.
"I thought you'd stay with Jimmy and the kids at least until tomorrow," he answered. "How is he anyway?"
"Fine. A bit scared of the children, but he's fine."
"They gave you any trouble?"
"They slept most of the time but Emma cried a bit when I left."
"I'm sorry, Lou, for everything," he said.
"I know. Me too, Kid, for everything I said. I never meant to hurt you."
"It's okay. You were right though, at least about Buck."
"So are you letting him go?" she asked.
"I can't, Lou. You know that. Even if you don't understand."
"Well, he does, Kid. And he forgives you."
"I know. He told me."
They looked at each other for a couple of minutes, not saying anything. Lou was the one to break the silence again. "Can I stay here tonight?" she asked.
Kid nodded. "I'm afraid the chair isn't too comfortable, though," he said. "I can let you sleep in one of the cells."
"Would you share it with me?" she asked.
"I don't think it would be such a good idea, Lou," he answered sadly. "God knows how much I want to too, but I'll want more than you can give me and I don't think it would be fair to either of us."
Lou nodded understandingly. "I'm sorry, Kid. It's just…"
"I know. It's not working anymore."
"No…" Lou sighed, tears forming in her eyes.
"We're still friends, Lou. You're still my best friend, and the mother of my children, and I still love you. It's not our time, Lou. That's all."
"Never is," she mumbled sarcastically.
"Hey," he lifted her chin with his fingers. "We did make three beautiful children; we must have done something right."
"I do still love you kid," Lou whispered.
"But it's not enough anymore, is it?"
Lou shook her head. "I'd better go to sleep now," she turned her back to him.
Kid opened one of the cells for her and reassumed his position on the chair.
When Lou awoke the next morning, Kid was no longer at the office. She looked at the next cell, where Buck was staring at something.
"What is this?" Lou asked.
"It's some kind of a charm my wife gave me," he answered. "Guess it didn't do me any good, after all."
"Don't say that, Buck. We'll get you out of here. Now that Kid's helping us…"
"He went to the Shusters' place again. Just five minutes ago," he looked at her. "When did you come back?"
"Last night. You were already sleeping."
"How's that old friend of ours doing?" he said with a wink.
"Okay, I guess. He's a bit scared of the new responsibilities, but he'll be fine," she smiled.
"I'm sorry I'm causing you so much trouble," he apologized sadly.
"Buck, it's not your fault. You hear?"
He nodded. "Do you really believe Kid'll find anything there?"
"I have to," she said with conviction. "And so must you! You can't give up now, Buck. Think about your children, your wife."
"I miss them so much, Lou," he whispered, tears now forming in his eyes.
"What's their names?" Lou asked, sensing he needed to talk about them.
"My wife's name is Winter-Sun. She has black long hair and black eyes, and she's very beautiful."
Lou could sense he wasn't quite comfortable talking about her. "How'd you meet her?"
"When I came back to my tribe my brother said I should marry one of them, so he introduced me to her. Her father is a very respectable member of the tribe and one of Red-Bear's friends so they thought by marrying her I'd be accepted more easily."
"But you don't love her…" Lou whispered.
"She's nice and kind and a very good mother and wife, but no, I don't love her. I do care about her a great deal, but…"
"It's okay, Buck. I understand," Lou told him. "You don't have to explain anything."
"I think she loves me, though. And it hurts me that I can't give her that back."
"Maybe one day…" Lou mumbled.
"What about your sons?" Lou asked to change the subject.
"The oldest is six, his name is Wild-Pony, but I call him Ike. My youngest son is four; we named him after my wife's father that died a month prior to his birth."
"You've been busy…" Lou smiled.
"Not as busy as you, I suppose," he smiled back, happy to return the topic to her.
"We talked about that last night - about our relationship. We agreed it's not working any more, even though we both love each other."
"I'm sorry. Are you going to get divorced?" he asked, sad to see the marriage of two of his family members crumble.
"It's the fair thing to do," Lou sighed. "That way, if either one of us wants to move on or even remarry - we can do it."
"You think about that?"
"Remarrying? No. I can't think of my life with anyone but him. But maybe he…"
"He will never love another woman, Lou," Buck said. "He really does love you."
"I know. But it's not enough anymore. His priorities are wrong. But he doesn't seem to think that. And I'm not talking about you right now," she added when she saw him beginning to form the words she knew he would protest. "It's about everyday life, Buck."
They were interrupted when Kid came back. "'Morning," he greeted, his face serious.
"Well?" Lou asked impatiently.
"I didn't find anything. I went to our place after Shuster's, thought I might find anything about those men, but nothing." He sank to the chair. "I'm so sorry, Buck."
"What are we going to do then?" Lou asked.
"There's nothing you can do, Lou," Buck answered her.
"We'll testify for you at the trial. We'll say we know you - we'll tell the judge you couldn't have done this."
"Lou, look at me," Buck asked. "What do you see?"
"What do you mean?" Lou asked, looking at the Kid for an explanation.
"What do you see?"
"You, Buck, I see you."
"They see an Indian. The judge will see an Indian. No - it's even worse. He'll see a half-breed. You see - Indians have honor. A half-breed doesn't even have that."
"How can you say that, Buck?" Lou asked incredulously.
"He's right, Lou," Kid remarked, but quickly explained when he saw the stunned expression on Lou's face. "It's not what I see in him, but the judge doesn't know him and that's exactly what he'll see."
"That's why we will be there," Lou said. "To back him up. Kid, you're the marshal. You're very respected here - the judge will have to believe you."
"Lou, relax," Kid tried to calm her down. "Of course we'll do everything we can for Buck, but that might not be enough."
"Do you swear you'll do your best, Kid? For him?"
"Yes, Lou. I swear," He sighed. After a few seconds of silence, he continued on something else. "Have you eaten anything yet?"
Lou shook her head. "Not since yesterday."
"Then come, I'm taking you out for lunch," he smiled, taking her hand.
"I can't go like this, Kid," Lou retorted referring to her clothes, which she hadn't changed since she started on her way to Jimmy.
"You look lovely, Lou. Come on. We will bring Buck food too."
She let her husband half drag her toward the restaurant, happy at the attention he gave her. She knew it was partly to disguise his pain from the break-up, but she let him. If that was what will help him through the heartache, she'd let him.
They sat in the restaurant, eating in silence, not looking at each other.
"What can we do for him?" Lou finally asked.
Kid shrugged. "The judge's gonna be here tomorrow, so we don't have much time left."
"We've got to think of something," she said. "Maybe I can help him escape."
"And become an accessory after the fact? I can't let you do this."
"What if you didn't know?"
"Well, I know now. Think about the children, I will have to arrest you and what will be of them then? They need their mother."
"You'd arrest me?" Lou asked seriously.
"Don't start with that, Lou. Please…"
Lou looked at her plate. "You're right. I'm sorry. But what else can we do?"
"I thought I'd have time to go to Buck's village and ask his son some questions, but I won't make it back here on time…"
"They don't even know what happened to him," Lou remarked. "His wife's probably worried sick."
"What can I do, Lou? I thought I'd have more time…"
"There's no point in talking about this now, Kid. We don't have the time for that. We have to think of a plan."
"Yeah, but first I want you to go home and rest. And I mean a real rest. Try to sleep some and freshen up. I'll try to think with Buck of something."
"We could've used Teaspoon's help now, uh?" Lou asked sadly, tears welling in her eyes.
Kid took her hand. "We could've used him a lot. He wouldn't be proud of me for this, though."
"You're doing the right thing now, Kid. At least you admitted you were wrong."
"It's too late now."
"No it's not, Kid. We'll make it happen. You'll see."
"Okay. But now, you're going home." He said as they rose to leave. "I'll bring Buck his meal."
By nightfall, Kid knocked on the house door. Lou opened the door and was surprised to see it was he.
"You don't need to knock, Kid."
Kid shrugged. "I was wondering about it," he admitted.
Lou smiled and moved away from the entrance, letting him in.
"Buck said thank-you for the meal. It was better than what they usually send us."
"Of course it is, Kid. You paid for it today," She laughed.
"Yeah, I guess," he still stood awkwardly at the kitchen's door.
"So," Lou decided to get him off the hook. "What brings you here? I mean, beside the fact that it's your house too. I was about to come over to you guys."
"Um… I don't want you to take it the wrong way… I know you can take care of yourself and be your own woman, and everything, it's just that I'd feel better if you won't stay here alone."
"I'll be okay, Kid," Lou answered quietly.
"I know you think that, and I know most the times you would be okay, but with these men around… Lou, last time they came you didn't hear them until they were in your room, wanting you to wake up. I want to stay here tonight in case something will happen. It's the night before the trial, and I'm scared they might take the last chance they have before it."
Lou looked in his eyes and saw a genuine concern. "Okay," she sighed. "You can stay here tonight. But you should tell Buck that."
"I did. And don't worry - I will stay in the parlor."
Lou wanted so much to walk toward him and wrap her arms around him to erase all the pain and feeling of betrayal she saw in his eyes, but she knew that would do them no good. They've already decided this was the best thing for the both of them, why make it any more difficult? She also decided not to mention divorce again. Not until he would. She doubted she would ever find any other man, and she didn't want to mention anything to cause more pain.
The saloon was packed in this noon hour, which was uncommon in this time of the day. No drinks being sold and no cards being dealt. A trial was going to take place and the people were thirsty for blood to pay for Melissa's. Shuster kept yelling words of revenge and justice. Lou squirmed every time she heard his voice. Buck sat in front of her, his back straight and high, staring ahead. Kid was sitting beside him. Finally, his deputy came in to announce the judge was coming. Lou put her hand on Buck's shoulders for reassurance, hoping to pass him some of her strength, as they stood to greet the judge.
The judge told them to sit and looked at Kid. "Marshal," He started, "I understand this man is being accused of murder."
Kid stood quickly. "Yes sir," Kid answered. "However…"
"Who's the prosecutor?" the judge cut him.
"I am," Shuster jumped from his sit. "That man there," he started, pointing at Buck, "killed my wife in cold blood. She did nothing to him and he raped her and then killed her."
Buck jumped from his place. "I've never raped anyone, and I haven't killed your wife!" he cried.
"Quiet!" the judge ordered. "Sit down!"
Buck reluctantly sat in his seat. "I've never raped anyone," he mumbled.
Kid leaned closer to him. "I know you didn't," he whispered, "but you have to stay focused."
"This trial is not about rape, it's about murder," the judge reminded Shuster. "It won't make any difference if I'll find him guilty. Now who's your first witness?"
"I am," Shuster called as he took the seat next to the judge he swore to tell the truth before he continued . "I came home and saw my wife… dead, in her bed… and this savage in her room."
"You have any questions, Marshal?" the judge asked.
Kid stood. "Was Buck conscious when you found him?"
"You will refer to the defendant as Mr. Cross, Marshal," The judge reprimanded.
"Sorry, your honor," Kid mumbled. He glanced at Lou for support and she smiled at him, telling him with her eyes that she's right there behind him. "Was Mr. Cross conscious when you found him?"
"What do you mean?" Shuster yelled. "And what difference does it make? He killed my wife."
"I want to know if it's maybe possible that there was someone else in the room, before you made it there, someone that killed your wife and knocked Mr. Cross unconscious."
"There was no one there beside him, when I came back there, and besides, his knife was found there, and you yourself said that was the weapon that killed her."
"Is that true, marshal?" the judge asked.
"Then what is there to say? It's obvious he did it."
"Your honor," Kid tried again, "there must have been someone else to knock Mr. Cross unconscious. And that someone could have taken that knife and used it…"
"You have to agree with me it's highly unlikely," the judge said, stopping Kid. "Is there anything else you want to say before I decide on the verdict?"
"Sir, your honor," Kid started, knowing this was his last chance to save his friend. "I vouch for him." The crowd started shouting and cursing at him.
"Quiet! Quiet!" the judge shouted. When the crowd was silent again, he ordered Kid to continue.
"Marshal Hickok will vouch for him too," Kid called.
"You know 'Wild Bill' Hickok?" the judge asked.
Buck just nodded.
"Your honor, actually, I just got a letter from the marshal, saying Mr. Cross was staying with him, along with Mr. William F. Cody and marshal 'Teaspoon' Hunter."
Lou looked at her husband, afraid he would trip over his lie. The judge, on the other hand, was quite impressed. "You know all these gentlemen?" he asked in awe.
Buck nodded again.
"Marshal Hickok also said that Mr. Cross helped him track some men…"
"When did you leave?" the judge asked, not letting the Kid finish.
"I'm sorry, sir?" Kid asked.
"When did he leave the presence of these fine gentlemen?" the judge asked again.
Buck saw Kid hesitate. "Two days before the murder," he mumbled, seeing there was no point in saying anything else, since he was found at the scene.
The judge looked at him closely. "Then you could have done it."
"I did not murder Melissa Shuster," Buck cried determinedly.
"That's for me to decide," the judge said coldly. "And I find you guilty."
The crowd started mumbling and yelling at the verdict, and the judge continued. "You will be hanged by your neck 'till death at dawn the day after tomorrow."
Lou gasped as tears rolled down her face. Kid bowed his head, looking at his hands. Buck kept a straight face. He knew that would be the judge's decision. In two days, he would be dead. He just hoped the Kid would tell his family about it. He was not angry nor disappointed. He was ready. Not that he wanted to die, but he already understood this was his destiny. At least he would die with dignity.
Kid looked at him and then at his crying wife, his own eyes glassy with tears. Lou reached to squeeze his shoulder. It seemed as if he was the one needing support and not Buck.
"Marshal, take him back to jail. This trial's adjourned." With that, the judge left the saloon.
Kid sat dumbly next to Buck.
"Come on, Kid," Buck said.
Lou ran outside, needing to be alone as Kid and Buck walked back to the jail.
"It's okay, Kid. Really," Buck repeated as his friend closed his cell door.
"It's not okay, Buck," Kid cried. "I can't tell you how sorry I am."
"I know," Buck smiled sadly. "But right now I think your wife needs you, and I'd like to be alone for awhile."
Kid nodded and went out to look for his wife. He found her sitting on a barrel just behind his office. She wasn't crying, just staring ahead, not really seeing anything.
"We're losing another one," she mumbled. "And now it's all our fault."
He moved closer to her. "We're not going to lose him. And he's not going to die," Kid answered earnestly. "I'll find something."
Lou looked at him. "I don't want you to get yourself in trouble, Kid," she whispered.
"Don't worry, I'll be okay."
"How's Buck taking it?" she asked.
Kid shrugged. "He asked to be alone, but it doesn't seem to bother him as much as I thought it would."
"I think he accepted it before the trial even begun," she remarked sadly. "It's like when we took Elias Milles to hang. He was so calm…"
"Buck is nothing like Milles," Kid answered angrily. "Milles did kill those people. Buck didn't. See the difference?"
"He wasn't such a bad person, Kid. You didn't spend all that time with him…"
"But you and Jimmy sure had a lot of fun," he retorted bitterly. He hadn't thought about that in years, but it cut through his heart exactly like the first time she told him about the kiss she shared with the man who was his best friend at the time.
Lou looked at him. "I've never regretted marrying you, Kid. Not ever."
"I know, Lou. I'm sorry. But being so helpless…"
"I know. It's okay. Kid, you've tried your best."
"It wasn't enough and it was too late."
"But what counts is that you've tried."
"Count by whom?" Kid asked sarcastically. "By the man who's about to die or by the town's people, whom I lied to?"
"By me," Lou walked closer and pulled him into her arms. "We'll find a way, Kid. We'll find a way."
They returned to the jail an hour later. They still hadn't find a solution, but thought they should check on Buck. He was lying on his bunk, his eyes closed.
"Kid, what about his family?" Lou asked in a whisper, figuring Buck was asleep.
"They won't make it in time for the hanging," Buck answered, not even bothering to open his eyes. "Just, please, tell them what happened and that I loved them."
"Buck, don't give up," Lou whispered, kneeling at the door of his cell.
"Shuster paid me a visit when you weren't here," he told them. "He was happy to see another one of my 'filthy pagans' dying."
"You're not going to die, Buck," Lou said. "And don't pay any attention to Shuster."
"I think he knows something about what happened to me," Buck replied. "Something he said about my boy. Maybe he knows the murderer as well."
"I still don't understand why anyone wanted to kill Melissa," Lou mumbled.
"Shuster said she's been raped. Maybe that man didn't want her to recognize him," Buck suggested.
"She wasn't raped," Kid spoke. "I don't know why Shuster said that, maybe he wanted to gain some more sympathy. She was found naked, but again, Shuster is the one who found her, so anything can be the truth, but the doctor said she wasn't raped."
"You think he killed her?" Lou suddenly asked.
Kid looked at her carefully. "Well, it is a possibility. The question is why."
Lou looked at him for a long moment, then at Buck. Without saying anything, she stormed out, leaving the bewildered men.
She went to the telegraph office, putting on her most alluring smile.
"Oh, hello Mrs. McCloud," The clerk said. "What can I do for you?"
Lou smiled again, leaning closer. "I was wondering if you could help me."
"Sure. Anything you need."
"Well, I was wondering… about Mrs. Shuster. She wrote to her sister, asking her something for me, and it's pretty important. I was wondering if she got any mail after… well…"
"No, ma'am," the clerk shook his head. "Nor did Mr. Shuster."
"Did he send anything?" Lou questioned. "Well, I mean, maybe she didn't get to send it."
The clerk shook his head. "The only telegraph he sent was to some lawyers back east to tell them she's been killed."
"Oh," Lou sighed, needing more time to think. "And they didn't send him anything?" she asked hopefully.
"No, ma'am, but if you want, I guess I can tell you when he will get any letters or telegrams. Of course, I wouldn't be able to tell you what's in the letters…"
"I understand," Lou smiled. "Thank you."
"No problem, ma'am."
Lou nodded and walked away, disappointed she couldn't find answers.
She took her time walking back toward Kid's office, not really wanting to see any one of the awaiting men. They knew it, when they saw her coming in. The disappointment and frustration were written all over her face.
"Where'd you go?" Kid asked for the both of them.
"I went to the telegraph office, but I didn't find anything. It's all for nothing. And it's too late to find anything now," she sighed.
At her last words Kid's face fell even more and he excused himself. There was no need for her to say that. He already knew it was his fault. He said he was sorry. What else could he do now? He went to the livery stable, to take Katy. In order to think in a clear mind, he knew he had to get away from the town and from Lou. He rode about a mile out of town, until he got to a clearing. He found a log and sat on it, listening to the silence that surrounded him. He thought about his life and the course they took lately. He knew Lou was right. He was putting his job before his family. It wasn't consciously. He still loved them as much as he did at the beginning, probably more, but he had more responsibilities now. They weren't the family of three they used to be when they just left Rock-Creek. He had to take care of them, and even though Lou was working as well, he still was the man of the family, and he had to do his best for them. He wanted them to have all the possibilities, to have everything he didn't have as a child, but in the process, he deprived them of their father. And now, this. He couldn't help but feeling he was the reason Buck was about to die. If only he believed him, if only he'd listen to what Lou was trying to tell him, he wouldn't be in this situation now. As Lou said, "now" was too late. They couldn't find any more clues as too much time has passed, but he knew he had to do something. He couldn't just let them hang Buck. It took him only a moment to realize he will be the one to do the hanging, and he couldn't stop the tears.
Kid came back only way after midnight. Lou was sleeping on the chair by his desk, but Buck was still awake, staring at the ceiling. "She wanted to apologize, but fell asleep about an hour ago," he mumbled.
"She was right, though, you know," Kid spoke back.
"No she wasn't, Kid. I already told you, I don't think you could've done anything different. You are the marshal, and you did what you had to do as a marshal."
"But I didn't do what I had to as a friend, Buck. And I was that to you," Kid sighed, looking at his hands.
"You still are, Kid. But not for long, I'm afraid."
"Well, I thought about that when I wasn't here, and I've come to a decision," Kid rose and reached for his desk drawer.
"What decision?" Buck asked suspiciously, getting up from his bunk and moving toward the door.
Kid pulled a set of keys and opened the cell door. "I'm getting you out of here."
"What are you talking about?" Buck couldn't understand.
Kid moved closer to Buck and opened the handcuffs. "You getting out."
"You can't do that, Kid. You'll get in trouble. Think about your family. They need you."
"Your family needs you," Kid replied. "I'll say you ran away. That you've managed to get a hold on my gun, and that I had to let you go. I'll try to track you tomorrow, but of course you'll be long gone and I wouldn't be able to find you, and besides, being an Indian, you know how to cover your tracks, right?" Kid smiled sarcastically. "Just make sure to really be as far as you can and please do cover your tracks so Shuster and his men won't find you." Buck was speechless and Kid continued, handing him his gun. "Take it, so I will sound more truthful. And please don't hit me too hard…"
Buck took the gun, then hugged his friend. "Thank you, Kid," he said through tears. "You know this means I won't be able to ever come back here."
"It's either that or you won't be able to 'come back' anywhere," Kid answered.
"Just say good-bye to Lou and thank her for me, and please tell her I love her."
"I will, Buck, but you'd better go," Kid pushed him toward the door and turned his back on him.
"Thank you, Kid. For everything," Buck whispered before knocking Kid out.
Lou woke up to the sound of groans. She stretched her stiff back and searched for the cause of it. Her eyes caught the sight of Buck's cell, which was now open and empty. She looked for Kid and found him lying on the ground near the door. She ran to his side, helping him up. He held his hand on the back of his neck. "Damn, he hit me hard," he muttered.
"Where's Buck, Kid?" Lou asked dangerously.
"He's gone, escaped. He must've hit me and escaped."
"You mean you let him escape," she whispered, not knowing who might be listening.
"What are you talking about?" he denied her accusations. "He got a hold on my gun and escaped."
"You can tell me the truth."
"This is the truth, Lou. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to gather a posse to look for him."
"Kid, you're not going to bring him in again, are you?"
Kid looked into her eyes, searching for her love. Through the mask of anger, he couldn't find it. He lowered his head and nodded. "I have to, Lou."
She only made it easier for him when she moved as far from him as she could within the boundaries of the small office and looked at him unbelievingly, tears welling in her eyes. "How can you?"
Kid had to suppress a smile. He must be even better than he thought, if she believed his act like that. But the situation was serious. He knew she would never forgive him for this. Even if he, in fact, won't 'find' Buck. "I'm sorry," he mouthed and walked out.
Lou sank to her knees, sobbing. Only a week ago, her life was perfect. Of course she had problems, her marriage needed some changes, some improvements, but she never, not in her most terrible nightmares, thought it will come to a point where she wouldn't trust Kid. Even when Buck was his prisoner and he truly believed he was guilty, she knew it was his beliefs. But now, when he already admitted he was wrong and Buck was innocent…
Jimmy was sitting at his desk, teaching Jed how to play poker. He smiled as the boy won again. "You are going to be just like your mother," he remarked. "I never could beat her in a card game."
"Did you ever beat dad?" Jed asked.
"In cards? Yeah. Your father isn't a big fan of cards."
"Dad is good in being a marshal." Jed mumbled and Jimmy could swear he heard sadness in his voice.
"And you don't like him being a marshal?" he asked.
Jed shrugged. "Are you a good marshal?" he asked.
Jimmy thought about that carefully. "I think your father is better at it than I am. Would you like to be a marshal when you grow up?"
"No," Jed answered. "I would want to spend time with my kids."
It finally dawned on Jimmy. "He's not home a lot," he nodded understandingly.
Jed shook his head. "Mama is pretty upset about it too. And dad wasn't sleeping at home the night we came here."
"Where was he?" Jimmy asked.
"He was staying at town. The night before as well."
"You want me to talk to them?" Jimmy asked. "You know they love each other, and you and your sisters. Maybe if they knew how much it's hurting you…"
"It will be okay. When the trial's over."
"Whose trial?" Jimmy asked. He was curious the first time Lou talked about it, and only now understood Jed knew something about it.
"I don't remember his name, but he's a friend of them. And he's Indian."
"Buck? He's name's Buck?" Jimmy asked excitedly.
"Yeah, that's it."
Just then a young man came in. "Marshal, you have a telegram," he handed Jimmy a piece of paper.
"Well, Jed, looks like you're going home. This telegram is from your mother and she asked me to bring you home."
"Is everything alright there?" Jed asked.
"It doesn't say, but we'll be home tomorrow and see for ourselves," Jimmy put his hand on the boy's shoulder for reassurance. "Come, let's tell your sisters. I'm sure Mrs. Brown will be just as happy as you are to see you go."
"They sure give her a hard time," Jed laughed.
"It's a wonder how your mother keeps up with those two…"
When Kid came back, Lou was nowhere to be found. He searched the office and behind it, searched the grocery store and even the church. When he gave up on the town, he went home. He found her sitting on the porch, two carpetbags by her feet.
"I didn't find him," he told her as he dismounted Katy.
"I'm sorry for you," she said coldly. "What will happen to your job now?"
"Nothing. He escaped, I couldn't find him though I tried."
Something in his tone alerted her. He wasn't as disappointed of not finding him as she thought he would. He even sounded as if he was… happy?
"What's with the bags?" Kid asked, bringing her back from her dreams.
"It's your clothes," she answered, drained of emotions. She spent the whole day crying. Crying in town, crying on her way home, crying when she packed his things.
"What do you mean?"
"You said you would be the one to leave," she waited for him to understand. When she saw the recognition on his face, she continued. "So these are your clothes. I couldn't put them all in those two bags, so there are some more left here." She rose to her feet and started to go inside, when Kid grabbed her arm.
"Is this really necessary?" he asked.
Lou had tears in her eyes again. "Please, Kid…" she whispered. "It's hard enough."
"Hard, Lou?" he cried. "What was the hardest? Telling me you don't want me in your life anymore or packing my things?"
She couldn't control the tears any longer. He really thinks I enjoy this… she thought.
"Is this really necessary?" he asked again, lowering his voice.
She nodded and all he could do was let her go. It was pointless. He saw she made up her mind, and knowing how stubborn she was, there was no point in even trying to make her reconsider. He picked up the bags and went to sleep in the stable, not wanting to go back to the town, and not wanting to leave her all alone in the place.
What now? Kid thought when he heard someone outside calling for the marshal. He lazily rose to his feet and went out, just to meet his youngest daughter running into his arms. "Hey," he laughed at her enthusiasm. "What are you doing here?" then his eyes caught the sight of Jimmy and his two other children.
"We got a telegram from Lou, asking us to come, so here we are," Jimmy smiled as he approached Kid and hugged him. "We were at the house, but since no one was there we figured we'll find you here."
"Lou was not home?" Kid asked, getting worried.
Jimmy shook his head. "Is Buck still here?" he suddenly asked.
Kid looked at him surprised. Lou said she didn't tell him about Buck. Jimmy saw the question on Kid's face and explained. "Jed told me about him. Is he still here?"
"He ran away last night," Kid answered. "I couldn't find him."
Jimmy looked at him carefully, but said nothing. He sensed Kid wanted to say more, but couldn't in front of the children. "Maybe we should take the kids home?" he mumbled.
Kid fixed the children something to eat. He felt awkward at his own home, and he didn't like that feeling. While the children were eating, he motioned jimmy to follow him outside. "I didn't know she wrote you."
"Jed said you had problems," Jimmy remarked.
"We don't anymore," Kid answered bitterly. "I left."
"What do you mean?"
"We don't live together anymore," his voice broke. "Things aren't as they used to be."
Jimmy sat stunned for a few minutes, before he found his ability to talk again. "When did this happen?"
"A couple of nights before we sent the kids. But last night I finally understood how permanent it really is."
"What about the kids?" Jimmy asked.
"They'll stay here with her. I'm still working in town, so I won't be too far from them."
"So you just gave up?" Jimmy asked incredulously.
"Jimmy, too much had happened."
"What happened, Kid? What's so big that it can destroy your marriage? You two love each other. I don't understand it."
"With everything's that happened… I wasn't home a lot, going to work early, coming home only very late, and now with Buck…"
"What's the story with Buck?" Jimmy asked, hoping to finally get an answer.
Kid looked at him before starting the story to its details, ever since Shuster brought Buck to him. He told him the truth about Buck's escape, but didn't forget to mention his earlier mistakes.
"You have to tell her the truth," Jimmy said after Kid finished his story, and a rider's figure could be seen heading in their direction.
Lou dismounted her horse, her face red and her eyes swollen. "What are you doing here?" she asked.
"I'm sorry…" Kid started. "I'll go…"
"I didn't mean you," Lou snapped. "Jimmy, what are you doing here? Where are the kids?"
"You sent for us…" Jimmy started, but Lou didn't wait to hear. She rushed into the house, to see her children.
Kid and Jimmy exchanged glances and went after her.
"I didn't write you, Jimmy," Lou replied, looking up at the men, from where she was kneeling beside her daughters.
It finally dawned on Kid and Jimmy what it meant. They looked at each other, looking for answers, to questions they were both thinking of.
"What are we going to do, Kid?" Lou finally asked, her instincts making her turn first to her husband. He pulled her into his embrace and stroked her head as she buried her face in his chest.
"You'd better tell her the truth, Kid," Jimmy said.
Lou looked at her friend and then at her husband. "What is he talking about, Kid?"
"Not here," Kid answered, leading her to the bedroom she now occupied by herself. He closed the door behind them and sat next to her on the bed. "Buck didn't escape," he started. "I let him go. It was the only thing I could think of. His only chance. I gave him my gun and told him to hit me." He stopped, letting it all sink. "I gathered that posse so it will look as if he really ran, but I wasn't looking for him. I ignored tracks and led them in the wrong direction. I looked for men who doesn't have the smallest clue about tracking, so they wouldn't see through it." He looked at her, searching for her reaction.
Tears were rolling down her cheeks and she looked at her hands. "I'm so ashamed," she whispered. "I should've known you better."
Kid shrugged and was quite surprised when she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. "I'm so sorry, Kid," she whispered. "I should've known better."
"It's okay. I lied to you, and there was no way you could've figured it up. At least I hoped there wouldn't be. It only made me trust my story more, seeing that you believed it."
Lou looked at Kid's eyes, seeing only love and affection shining through the deep blue, not anger or disappointment. "Kid," she started, her hand cupping his face. "What is happening to us?"
Kid looked at her, but when he tried to say anything, he found it was impossible as his throat was choked with tears. A knock on the door saved him. "Come in," he called, standing up and walking to stand by the window. Before Jimmy could speak, he already understood what it was that he wanted to tell them. "Lou…" he said in a hoarse voice. "Get the children and stay in Jed's room."
Lou stood and walked to the window to see what it was, but he stopped her. "Lou, please do as I say."
She decided not to argue with him, seeing how serious he was. "Take care," she mumbled before stepping out of the room.
"Now what?" Jimmy asked.
Kid looked at him. "You have any suggestions?"
"Yeah, let's try and stay alive," Jimmy tried to joke as the two of them headed downstairs. They walked out just as the men reached the house.
"We don't want any trouble," Kid said. "Now turn your horses and ride out of here."
"We've warned your wife to stop, but she wouldn't listen to us. She thought we wouldn't find your children. It's a shame they are going to witness their father being killed."
Kid didn't even flinch. With a calm voice, he spoke again. "This is your last chance to go away unharmed."
"The only one that's going to get hurt is you, Mr. McCloud. You ain't even man enough to give your wife your name," the leader of the group laughed menacingly, rising his gun. His men did the same. Though practiced, Jimmy and Kid were too slow. "Now drop your weapons. Both of you."
Kid and Jimmy hesitated at first, but seeing there was no other options they did as they were told.
The leader motioned the man in the rear to come forward. "Shoot him!" he ordered.
The man looked at his leader. "But…"
"No buts," the leader shouted. "You will do as you were told."
The man held his gun in a shaky hand, aiming at Kid.
"Shoot him!" the leader barked.
"Don't do it," Jimmy called. "Think for yourself. If you'll murder the marshal you will be hanged."
"Only if you catch him," the leader laughed. "Don't push your luck, marshal."
"Don't do it!" Jimmy said again.
Kid glanced up to see Lou standing at their bedroom window.
"Shoot him!" the leader said. "Shoot him now!"
Kid didn't even see the gun fired. He only felt the bullet hitting him, sending him flying on his back, landing on the porch steps.
Jimmy dived for his gun and shot the man. The others started shooting at him and he ran inside taking cover and shooting from behind the door. It only took seconds to join him, even as tears were shimmering in her eyes.
"How bad?" she asked, shooting and dropping another man.
"I couldn't see," Jimmy answered, stopping to look at her. "Where are the children?"
"Upstairs. I told them to stay there, but they are very scared."
Jimmy shot and killed another man, and ducked back behind the door.
"I have to check on him, Jimmy," she said, but he caught her before she could move.
"They will kill you and then what?" he tried to talk some sense into her. "Help me here and we will get to him as soon as possible," he promised.
The shooting continued for another couple of minutes until the three members left of the gang, including their leader, retreated.
Lou ran out of the house as soon as she had a chance, Jimmy right behind her. She kneeled by her husband, taking his head and cradling it on her lap. She looked questioningly at Jimmy, who was examining Kid, but he just shrugged. "I can't tell, Lou," he whispered as he continued his examination.
Lou looked up when she heard the house door open. Jed's face appeared at the entrance, looking scared and confused.
Lou laid Kid's head softly on the ground and went to her son. "Are you alright?" she asked.
The boy nodded. "Mary and Emma are scared," he mumbled. "How's daddy?"
"He will be okay," Lou promised, even though she had no indication he is going to be okay.
Jimmy came to stand by them. "I'd better go get the doctor, Lou. I don't want to move him, so stay by his side," he turned to get his horse from the stable.
"Ride safe." Lou called after him. They didn't know who the men were and didn't know whom they should be aware of. She returned to her husband's side, after she sent Jed inside to sit with the girls. "Please wake up, Kid," she cried. "Please…"
Jimmy went straight for the doctor's. He pounded his fist on the door, calling for the doctor. The doctor's wife opened the door. "He ain't here," she said, angry for the intrusion. "He went to send a telegraph."
Jimmy didn't even thank her and just ran across the street to the telegraph office. "Doc, the marshal is hurt badly," Jimmy panted, out of breath.
"What are you talking about, son?" the doctor asked.
"The marshal… at his home… been shot," Jimmy tried again, still trying to get his breathing under control.
"I'll get my horse," The doctor answered, and wasting no time ran back to his office.
Before Jimmy could follow, the clerk called him. "Mrs. McCloud asked me if Shuster got any mail or sent anything out…"
Jimmy looked at him, trying to figure what's the importance with this, now that his friend could be dying.
"He got a telegraph from those lawyers, saying his wife's bequest of three thousand dollars will be given to him when he gets to their office."
Jimmy pondered that for only a second, before a little smile formed on his lips. This might be the break they needed for Buck, he thought. "Thank you," he said. "I'll make sure to tell Mrs. McCloud about it."
"And tell her I hope her husband will be okay," the clerk called after Jimmy that ran out to mount his horse and get back to his friends.
Lou was still by Kid's side when Jimmy came back with the doctor. They both quickly dismounted and ran to her side. Kid's shirt was already opened, showing his bleeding wound under Lou's pressing hands. "Please help him, doctor. He's losing so much blood," She cried.
"Can we move him, doctor?" Jimmy asked.
"Yes. Help me get him inside."
"No," Lou suddenly cried. "The children…"
"Go and get them into their room," Jimmy instructed her.
Lou did as he told her, not quite able to think for herself. She couldn't remember ever feeling like that. She saw him being shot at numerous times before, when they were riding for the express and now when he was the marshal, and it frightened her every time. But nothing like what it did to her now. She was scared this was the end, this was the final time. She ran into the house, taking Emma in one arm and Mary's hand in the other. Jed followed her silently, sensing now was not the time to ask any questions.
She put the children in the girls' room, leaving Jed in charge and ran to the bedroom, where Jimmy and the doctor were now laying Kid on the bed. He let out a moan, but didn't wake. The doctor removed Kid's shirt, trying to move him as little as possible. Jimmy watched Lou carefully, hoping she would gather her wits together and help the doctor. She knew more than he did about fixing up wounded people and he really wished to get away from that room, but he had to make sure she could handle it first.
Lou wiped the tears from her eyes and sat at Kid's head, caressing his curls. "He's going to be alright, Doc. Isn't he?"
The doctor looked at her. "I just started, ma'am. Can you please boil some water for me?"
Lou looked at Jimmy, begging him with her eyes.
"I'll be right back," he nodded, leaving the room and heading for the kitchen.
Lou stayed sitting on the bed, her husband's head in her lap. "Don't you die on me," she whispered. "Don't leave me like that."
When Jimmy brought the water, the doctor cleaned the wound. "The bullet is still inside," he told them. "I have to take it out or it will cause an infection."
Lou nodded. "Can I help?" she asked, trying with all her might to be strong again and help out.
"Marshal, I will need you to hold him down, in case he wakes up," the doctor ordered Jimmy. "And I need you, ma'am, to help clean the wound as I look for the bullet."
Lou nodded and got in position next to the doctor. She took a cloth in her hand and cleaned the blood that continued to gush from the wound as the doctor pried for the bullet inside the hole it made in Kid's stomach.
Kid stayed still throughout the whole procedure, which made Lou even more worried. Throughout the whole thing, up until when the doctor pulled the bullet out, a part of her prayed for him to wake up, while another part wished for him to stay unconscious, so he won't suffer.
But now, she became worried. What if he will never wake up? She thought as tears welled up in her eyes again.
The doctor finished bandaging Kid and motioned Jimmy to follow him outside. Before the young man could ask anything, the doctor held his hand to stop him. "I don't know," the doctor answered the unquestioned question. "He lost a lot of blood and the fact that he hasn't woken up yet is not a good sign. However," the doctor continued, "he is a young and strong man. I've seen him pull through much more difficult situations. He needs a lot of rest, even when he eventually wakes up. Don't let him back in town for at least a month. I'll come to check on him tomorrow, but in the mean time I want you to make him feel as comfortable as possible."
Jimmy nodded his acknowledgment and the doctor left. Jimmy checked on Lou and found her sitting next to her husband, holding his hand in hers, speaking her love for him. He silently closed the door behind him and went to check on the children. He found them on Mary's bed, cuddled together. Emma was sleeping with her head on Jed's thigh, while he stroked her hair. Jimmy smiled at the way she sucked her thumb in her mouth, looking so innocent and angelic. Jed and Mary looked at him when he walked in, their faces watery with tears. Mary climbed off the bed and ran into her uncle's open arms. "Don't worry, sweetheart," Jimmy tried to ease her mind a bit. "Your father is going to be alright."
"Is mama with him?" Jed asked from the bed.
Jimmy looked at him and nodded. "The doctor just left. He said your father is strong and that he will pull through this." Jimmy saw the boy's intelligent eyes, a combination of both his parents' wisdom and knew that he needed more than that. "Your father has been shot," He admitted, "But the doctor said he believes he will be okay. We just have to be patient."
"Can I see him?" Jed asked, satisfied with Jimmy's honesty, but still wanting to see for himself.
Jimmy nodded. "But be quiet," he added just before Jed disappeared behind the door.
Jed peeked into the room, his eyes adjusting to the darkness. He saw the silhouette of his mother, holding what he knew was his father's head. He walked in, trying to be as quiet as he could. Lou noticed him and smiled weakly, motioning him to come closer. "Did you eat supper?" she asked.
Jed shook his head. "Not yet. But I ain't hungry."
Lou could see the tears in Jed's eyes and she collected them with her finger as they rolled down his cheeks. "Everything will be alright. You'll see," she whispered, her voice shivering.
"Why hasn't he woke up yet?" the boy asked.
"He's been shot, and he hit his head on the stair. But he will wake up. He's just resting after the last few days," Lou tried to sound hopeful.
"Mama…" Jed had one other thing on his mind. "Is daddy coming back to live with us now?"
Lou looked at her son, obviously surprised. "What made you ask that?"
"I know daddy slept in his office the night we left for Uncle Jimmy and the night before. I know you had a fight."
Lou felt renewed tears in her eyes. "Daddy's going to stay with us," Lou promised. "Once he wakes up we'll tell him how much we all love him and he will stay with us."
"Didn't he want to?" Jed asked. "Is that why he hadn't come for my party?"
Lou caressed her son's cheek and took his hand in hers. She smiled as she realized that she was probably watching the image of Kid when he was that age. "Your father and I had a little disagreement, but everything's going to be fine now."
"Was it about that Indian friend of yours?"
Lou nodded. "Remember when dad and I told you about your uncles?"
"Uncle Jimmy and Uncle Cody," Jed answered.
"Yes. But remember we told you about there were others you haven't met?"
"Like Uncle Ike and Uncle Noah?" Jed asked.
"And Uncle Buck," Lou reminded him. "He was the one you saw at the jail."
"Did he kill Mrs. Shuster?" Jed asked.
Lou shook her head. "We don't know yet who killed her, but it wasn't Buck. Do you know what setting someone up means?" Lou asked, trying to explain everything to the seven year old young man.
Jed shook his head.
"It's when someone is doing something and then says someone else did it," Lou explained. Always the teacher, she thought.
"So someone else killed her and said Uncle Buck did it?" Jed asked. "So why did daddy put him in jail if he didn't do it?"
Lou looked at her son sadly. It was time to stand by her husband, she decided, not against him. "We didn't know it wasn't him. We needed proof."
"So now you know who did it?" Jed asked.
"Not yet," Lou answered, turning around as she heard someone opening the door.
Jimmy stood at the door shyly. "I thought I'd make the kids something to eat…" he smiled.
Lou nodded. "Jed, why won't you help your uncle, so he can find the things he needs," she said, pushing Jed gently toward the opening.
A couple of hours later, after Jimmy put the children to sleep, he knocked on the door to Kid and Lou's bedroom. When he received no answer, he opened the door. Lou was still sitting by Kid's side, her head hanging low, obviously asleep. He touched her shoulder gently, wanting to help her into a more comfortable position. She stirred and opened her eyes, immediately looking for a change in her husband. "He hasn't woke up yet," she stated.
Jimmy shook his head. "We have to wait," he told her, his hand still on her shoulder. "Why don't you get some sleep, Lou. I'll watch him."
Lou shook her head furiously. "I can't, Jimmy. I owe him at least that much. I've sinned against him by not trusting him more and not knowing him better. I hated him, Jimmy. For all he did to Buck - what I thought he did. I have to tell him how sorry I am," she sobbed, tears rolling down her cheeks. "I have to see if he still loves me…"
"He does," Jimmy assured her, but it seemed she didn't hear him.
"Cause if he doesn't, I don't know what I'll…"
"He does," Jimmy repeated, more firmly now, lifting her chin with his fingers so he could look her in the eyes. "He still loves you. He told me so."
Lou's eyes brightened some. "He did?" she asked, her voice trembling.
Jimmy nodded. "When we came here we had a talk about everything that has happened and he told me how sorry he was for not being with you lately as much as he should and as much as he wanted. He told me about you not living together anymore and he said how much he missed waking up with you in his arms."
"Oh, Jimmy…" Lou sighed. "If only he wakes up…"
"He will," Jimmy told her. "But I want you to be able to see that. And if you keep on sitting here like that you will fall asleep eventually and miss it. You go and lie for a while in the other room. I'll stay here with him."
Lou nodded and rose to her feet. She kissed Kid's forehead and then his lips. She hugged Jimmy and whispered a thank you in his ear before she left the room.
When she woke up in the morning, it took her a few seconds to remember where she was and everything that happened the day before. She rushed out of bed and across the hall to Kid. He was still unconscious and she fell to her knees by the bed, sobbing in her hands. When she finally relaxed a bit, she looked around but saw no sign of Jimmy. She walked to the kitchen where she found him making breakfast. "Sleep well?" he asked, not mentioning her breakdown of only several minutes before.
She touched his arm, wanting him to look at her. "I want you to do something for me, Jimmy."
"Anything, Lou," he waited for her to name it. He'd fly to the moon if she only asked him.
"I want you to go look for Buck."
"What?" he exclaimed. "We have no idea where he is right now, and I don't want to leave you here alone."
"I'm not alone, Jimmy," she retorted.
"Lou…" Jimmy started, frustrated. "You are alone here with the children and Kid like that. What if these men came here again?"
"It's very important to me, Jimmy. And I know Kid would like to know about Buck when he wakes up."
"Lou," Jimmy took her hand and led her to sit on a chair by the table. "He might not make it."
"Don't say that!" Lou yelled at him. "Kid didn't do this for nothing. Buck had to make it!"
"I didn't talk about Buck," he mumbled in a low tone.
Lou felt the tears well in her eyes. "Don't you ever say that, James Hickok. He has to make it. I have to see his blue eyes once again, to tell him how much I love him," she was sobbing now, and Jimmy could do nothing but take her in his arms and promise to go look for Buck.
"I'd better go check on Kid," Lou said when she calmed down and the sobbing subsided.
Jimmy nodded. "Is there any food I can take with me?" he asked.
Lou pointed at one of the cupboards. "Take what you need," she answered as she walked upstairs.
She entered the room and noted nothing has changed. She sat on the bed, taking her husband's hand in hers. "Please wake up, Kid," she whispered. "Jimmy is going away now and I'm scared of being here alone."
A sharp noise woke her up a couple of hours later. She cursed herself for falling asleep and quickly checked on Kid. No change. In the kitchen, she found Jed collecting the pieces of what was once a glass, while her daughters were giggling as they watched him. She made them something to eat and sent them outside to play. Feeling it has been too long since she left him, she returned to the bedroom.
She gasped and rushed to the bed as Kid tried to rise into a sitting position. Her hand on his shoulder, she forced him to lie on his back. "You need to rest," she whispered.
"Water," he mouthed and she let him sip some from the glass that waited for him to wake.
Lou felt no words were enough to express her emotions at the moment and so she just sat by his head, caressing his curls and lightly kissing his forehead and his brows.
"How are the kids?" he asked after a few minutes.
"They're fine. We're all fine, Kid. You too. We were just waiting for you to wake up. The children miss you."
"What about these men?" he asked.
"Some of them are dead," she told him. "Three ran away."
"Who?" he asked.
"We could only identify the dead ones, but I couldn't recognize them. I don't think they're from here."
"What about Shuster?" Kid asked.
"He wasn't one of the dead, Kid."
Kid nodded and immediately regretted it as a major headache hit him.
"The doctor should be here later today," Lou said as she noticed his discomfort.
"How bad is it?" Kid asked.
"The doctor said the wound will heal just fine if there won't be an infection. He wasn't sure about you because you hit your head on the step."
"Is Jimmy okay?"
Lou nodded. "He went to look for Buck. I told him you'd like to know how he is."
"He's not going to find him," Kid stated.
"I was worried about you," Lou changed the subject, eager to tell her husband what's been on her mind since he told her the truth about Buck. "I was worried I won't have the chance to tell you that I love you."
"I know…" Kid whispered, wishing in his heart she kissed him, since he had no strength to pull himself up and do it himself.
"I'm sorry for not trusting you more," she continued. "I want things between us to return to the way they were. I wouldn't mind it if you decide to work long hours and only come home late at night, as long as you will come home eventually, come to me…"
Kid could wait no longer. "Kiss me…" he whispered, cutting her in the middle of her speech.
"What?" Lou didn't quite hear what he was saying, her mind on the rest of her thoughts she didn't yet verbalize.
"Kiss me," Kid requested again.
Lou smiled and kissed his forehead.
Kid closed his eyes and closed his lips together, trying to explain better what he meant. Lou giggled and kissed his nose.
"Lou…" he growled, but was soon shut as her lips met his.
Even after only hours on the road, Jimmy already knew he was not going to find Buck. Lou sent him searching for someone both of them knew they weren't going to find. Buck was too much of a master for them to be able to track him. Especially for Jimmy, who never cared much about tracking. But his heart wouldn't let him stop his search just yet. He owed it to Lou to keep on searching. At least for another day. He just prayed he was making the right decision by leaving her like that for another day.
Lou was standing with her back to the kitchen door, making sandwiches for lunch. She looked out the window at her children, not letting them out of her sight. She jumped when she heard a noise behind her, but relaxed when she saw it was Kid and rushed to his side, helping him sit down. "You shouldn't be out of bed yet," She scolded.
"I feel fine," he muttered.
She looked at him for a few seconds, then returned to the counter to finish preparing lunch.
Kid watched her back. "Jimmy hadn't come back yet?" he asked.
Lou shook her head.
"Louise…" Kid stood up and walked to stand behind her, ignoring his trembling legs and the searing pain in his body. Lou turned to find herself in his arms, his face only inches from hers. "We need to talk."
Lou closed her eyes and looked down, unable to meet his eyes. "What about?" she asked, trying to sound casual.
"About us," he answered her, his voice husky with emotions.
Lou turned her back to him, still standing in the circle of his arms. "I have to go get the children back in for lunch," she mumbled and moved away from him, walking outside.
Kid sunk back into the chair and sighed. His head was spinning and he cursed himself for coming down. His headache only grew worse when the children came rushing in.
Emma tried to climb onto his lap but Lou was quick enough to catch her and move her away from her father. "You're father needs his rest," she scolded and served the food to the table.
Jed stared at his father, feeling uncomfortable with him, knowing all that happened between his parents. "Are you going to stay here?" he was surprised to see his father looking at him intently and only then realized that he spoke out loud.
Kid looked at Lou and then back at his son, "What brought that up?" he asked with a smile, trying to look innocent.
"Mama said you will stay here when you wake up," Jed answered.
Kid shifted uncomfortably in his sit. "We'll talk about it later. Okay?"
Jed looked hurt and lowered his eyes. "Don't you like us anymore?" he asked. The tears choking him.
Kid's own eyes filled with tears as well. "Of course I like you. I love you. Don't you know that?"
Jed stood up and run upstairs. Lou called after him, but he wouldn't stop. "I'll go talk to him," she said and rose but Kid held her hand, stopping her.
"What will you tell him?" he asked. "We need to talk before you go up there." He stood and led her to the parlor, leaving their daughters with tears in their eyes.
"Kid…" Lou started when they were alone. "Why didn't you answer him? Why didn't you tell him you are staying?"
"Am I staying, Lou?" he asked. "And what will happen the next time we argue?"
Lou turned her back to him. "We won't," she replied simply.
"Louise…" he sighed and dropped into a chair. "You know better than this. At times it seems all we do is argue and fight." When she looked at him with hurt in her eyes he quickly explained. "I've never stopped loving you. But we do argue a lot more lately. A lot more than we used to." He stopped before his next sentence, which he knew would be definite. "I don't want to come back if you will tell me to leave the next time we disagree on something."
Lou took a step back and looked at him unbelievingly. "You don't mean it," she whispered shakily. "Kid, tell me you don't mean it."
Kid looked at her, tears rolling down his face and then lowered his eyes to his hands, unable to look at her anymore.
Lou fell on the floor by him and grabbed his hands in hers. "Please, Kid," she begged. "I was wrong. I thought I was strong enough to live my life without you, but I was wrong. Kid, I'm not strong enough. I can survive and beat a thousand men, but I won't be able to live without your love."
"You will always have my love, Lou," Kid whispered.
"It's not enough," she cried and took his face in her hands. "I want you here. Forever. This is your home and your family. I will never doubt your love and your devotion for us. Just, please, say you will stay here," she kissed him, not stopping until she felt him returning the kiss, his arms enfolding her.
Kid broke the kiss when they were both breathless. "I will never leave you again, Lou," he promised. "I'll go up now and tell Jed that."
She took his hand in hers and helped him stand. "Let's tell him that together."
Jimmy stopped his horse as he saw the house. He sighed, fearing what he was going to find there. Had the men came back? Were Lou and the children okay? And Kid?
He shook his head. Of course they are all fine, he thought and spurred his horse forward.
He found Kid sitting on the porch swing, watching his children playing in the yard. Jimmy dismounted and hugged Kid who came down the steps to greet him. "I couldn't find him," he answered the unasked question.
"I didn't think you would," Kid smiled. "It's a good thing, though. Means no one else would find him either."
Jimmy nodded. "How are you feeling?"
Kid shrugged. "Like I've been shot," he chuckled. "I feel better now. Lou and I talked about our problems…"
At that minute, as if on cue, Lou ran out of the house and into Jimmy's arms. She hugged him tightly and then let go. "Well?" she asked. "Have you found him?"
Jimmy shook his head.
"Lou," Kid started and put an arm around her shoulders. "Buck is far away from here by now. I'm sure he's safe." He kissed her forehead. "I want to go to town to check on a few things. Jimmy will stay here with you."
"I don't need a babysitter, Kid," Lou turned to face her husband. "And I don't want you to go there. You're not well yet and the murderer is probably still out there. And Shuster…"
"Damn, Kid," Jimmy cried suddenly, interrupting Lou, "I forgot to tell you." Both Kid and Lou were staring curiously at him now. "When I was in town to get the doctor I found him in the telegraph office. The clerk asked me to tell you that the lawyers telegraphed Shuster saying he will inherit all his wife's money."
Lou gasped and clenched her husband's arm. "Kid, that's the proof we needed. That's the motive."
"He killed her for the money," Kid stated the obvious. "He must've attacked Buck on his way back here and killed his wife, blaming Buck." Kid stopped for a second and looked at Lou and Jimmy, trying to see through their thoughts. "I'm going to Shuster's place," he said finally and started toward the stable.
"Kid, wait…" Lou shouted after him and looked at Jimmy, pleading with him to stop her husband.
"Sorry, Lou," Jimmy apologized and walked after Kid.
The both of them emerged from the stable after a minute, Jimmy riding Lightning, figuring his horse was tired after the last couple of days.
Lou watched them ride, knowing why they had to go, but fearing for their safety.
She ran back into the house to fetch the gun and returned to the porch to watch over her kids, the gun held tight in her hand.
Kid and Jimmy rode fast the few miles that separated the McCloud's house from the Shuster's.
Kid jumped off Katy at the house steps and reached for his gun. "Shuster!" he yelled toward the house. "You're under arrest for the murder of your wife!"
Kid looked around at the deserted yard, taking a glimpse of Jimmy carefully entering the small barn.
"Shuster!" he yelled again.
"Kid!" Jimmy came running toward him. "He's not here. All the horses are gone and there are some fresh tracks heading south."
Kid, hearing this, broke the door open and entered the house. He re-holstered his gun and run up the stairs to the bedroom, the scene of crime. He looked around the room, while Jimmy watched him from the door, but found nothing new.
"Kid," Jimmy started, walking to stand by his friend in the middle of the big room. "We'd better head after him. He's probably already far from here."
Kid nodded. "We have to pass at the house first. I want to tell Lou."
An hour later they were mounted on their horses again, their bags filled with food Lou arranged for them to take.
"Take care," she said, standing by Kay. "Remember you promised to stay here. So come back safely."
Kid leaned down to kiss her. "We will both come back," he promised. "I love you."
With that, the two men started their ride after Shuster.
Being the expert riders they were, they were able to gain speed and by noon the next day, they finally reached Shuster and his two friends. They weren't wearing the hoods now, and Kid, seeing as he couldn't identify the other two, figured they were from out of town.
"Well," Jimmy started. "What do you want to do?"
Kid shrugged. "We still need to get down this slope."
"We can get them from here," Jimmy noted.
"I'd rather get them alive, Jimmy, so they can stand trial. I can't just shoot them."
Jimmy nodded. "Yeah, I know. I'm wearing the same badge, Kid."
Kid looked at him and smiled. "It sure is surprising."
Jimmy smiled at that. "Yeah, well…"
"Come on," Kid started toward the valley below them. Jimmy followed immediately.
They followed the three men for a few miles longer, deciding to surprise them when they make camp. By nightfall, Shuster and his friends stopped at a clearing and dismounted. Kid and Jimmy stopped their horses and came closer on foot.
"Shuster!" Kid yelled when they were close enough. "You're under arrest for the murder of your wife! Drop your guns and hold your hand up where I can see them!"
Before Kid could continue a shot rang and he ducked. "Shuster!" he shouted again. "Don't force me to kill you!"
More shots followed and Kid and Jimmy were forced into a gunfight.
Suddenly Kid heard a shot coming from a new direction, directed at Shuster. He looked questioningly at Jimmy but got only a bewildered shrug in response.
After a few more minutes the shots stopped. Shuster was dead and his wounded friend held his good arm up, surrendering himself.
Kid and Jimmy emerged from behind the trees, looking around for the mysterious shooter.
Their faces broke into grins as Buck came out of his hiding place. "Your gun," he smiled at Kid, giving it back to him.
Kid hugged his friend tightly. "I'm sorry, Buck."
Buck pulled away and shook Kid's hand. "It's okay," he said. "I am free now." He looked at the dead men. "Shuster?" he asked.
Kid nodded. "He was after Melissa's money," he sighed. "The poor woman…"
Jimmy walked closer to them, after securing the wounded man to a saddle. "I'm sure Lou would be very happy if you came with us," he told Buck.
The Indian shook his head. "Not today," he apologized. "Tell her I'm alright and that I will come back, but not today. I think it'd be better if I stayed away from town for awhile longer."
Kid and Jimmy nodded understandingly.
"You're always welcome," Kid told him, taking Buck's hand in his.
Buck smiled. "I know. Send my love to Lou." With that, he turned and disappeared between the trees.
Jimmy looked at Kid and patted his shoulder. "Let's go home," he smiled.
Kid nodded and after a few more seconds followed toward the horses.
They reached the town by late afternoon the next day. Jimmy stayed in the jail, watching over the prisoner, sensing Kid needed some time alone with his wife.
Kid dismounted and led Katy to the stable, stalling, a bit intimidated by seeing Lou. She surprised him, however, by coming to the stable after him. She looked at him, patting Katy absentmindedly. "Where's Jimmy?" she asked.
"In town, we have a prisoner."
"Shuster?" Lou asked.
Kid shook his head. "He's dead. One of his friends."
They looked at each other awkwardly. "Are you okay?" Kid asked her.
She nodded, finding it impossible to talk. She flung her arms around his neck and kissed him deeply, tears of relief falling freely from her eyes.
"I was so worried," she admitted when they broke the kiss.
"I told you I'd come back," he said.
"So you did," she kissed him again.
"We saw Buck," Kid told her after they kissed for a few moments.
"How is he?" Lou asked, fearing the worse.
Kid saw all the emotions running through her head and smiled. "He's fine. He promised to come visit sometime, when the town's people cool off."
Lou nodded and hugged her husband tightly. "Thank you," she whispered, "for setting him free."
Kid kissed her forehead. "I finally saw the truth. I'm just glad I wasn't too late."
Lou kissed him deeply. "You're a good man, Kid McCloud."
Kid laughed at that. "Thank you for giving me your name."
"You deserve it," she kissed his nose.
After they held each other awhile longer, Lou backed away toward the door, taking Kid's hand in hers. "Come on, let's get something to eat."
They walked together, hand in hand, toward the house with a promise for a happy future.